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Dictionary

HISTORICAL ANALYSIS

Philip Gardner

A method that seeks to make sense of the past through the disciplined and systematic analysis of the ‘traces’ it leaves behind. Such traces may be of many different kinds, ranging from everyday ephemera, artefacts and visual images, to old buildings, archaeological sites or entire landscapes. The most widely used historical traces, however, are written documents, whether of public or private origin. Historical analysis is commonly used in social research as an introductory strategy for establishing a context or background against which a substantive contemporary study may be set. A stronger conception of historical analysis sees it as a pervasive and necessary technique in its own right, without which no account of phenomena in the present may be properly understood. In this more substantial form, historical analysis is often combined with other methods to engage social research questions. History has the power to challenge dominant assumptions because it records, if ...

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